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Liberia: Human Rights Report
Liberia: Human Rights Report
Date distributed (ymd): 971211
Document reposted by APIC
Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +security/peace+
Human Rights Watch/Africa has released a new report: "Emerging from
the Destruction: Human Rights Challenges Facing the New Liberian Government."
It makes recommendations concerning return of refugees and internally displaced
people, rebuilding state institutions and dealing with past abuses.
Human Rights Watch
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For Further Information, Contact:
Binaifer Nowrojee (617)493-2990 (Cambridge, MA)
Peter Takirambudde (212)972-8400 (New York, NY)
Janet Fleischman (202)371-6592 (Washington, D.C.)
LIBERIA'S HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION PRECARIOUS
(New York, November 17, 1997)--While the end of the war has brought
much-needed peace and security, Liberia's state institutions and economy
have been destroyed. In "Emerging from the Destruction: Human Rights
Challenges Facing the New Liberian Government," released today, Human
Rights Watch finds the human rights situation to be precarious. A culture
of violence, ethnic tension and impunity has taken root, and the next steps
by the new government will determine whether Liberia will emerge from the
chaos that marked its recent history. Human Rights Watch identifies the
key challenges facing the administration of President Charles Taylor, and
calls for sustained attention to human rights during this critical transition
period. " Four months after taking office, President Taylor is facing
enormous challenges in rebuilding a country that was virtually destroyed
by the warring factions," said Peter Takirambudde, Executive Director
for Africa at Human Rights Watch. "But if Liberia is to successfully
reconcile and rebuild, this government will need to prioritize institution-building
and protection of human rights. Our report provides an analysis of the
current situation and offers detailed recommendations which, if followed
by the relevant government and international agencies, will lay the basis
for long-term peace and development."
According to Human Rights Watch, this transition period provides a rare
opportunity to develop new state institutions that can operate to secure
respect for human rights. While President Taylor has promised to uphold
human rights and has taken some initial steps, Human Rights Watch believes
that more must be done, particularly to ensure the safe and voluntary return
of the one million refugees and internally displaced, to rebuild the law
enforcement and justice institutions, and to deal with past abuses of human
The Taylor government came into office on August 2, 1997 following an
election that ended a seven-year civil war. Tens of thousands of Liberians
were killed during the war and almost half the country's population displaced.
Despite the presence of regional peacekeepers and a United Nations military
observer mission, fighting resumed numerous times during the war, and the
number of factions proliferated over the years. All the factions, including
Charles Taylor's faction, were responsible for terrorizing the local populations
in order to loot and to discourage support for rival factions. Widespread
atrocities against civilians were committed including killings, torture,
forced labor, and extortion.
The Human Rights Watch report recommends to the Taylor government that
it pay particular attention to the following human rights issues in the
- Return of Refugees and the Internally Displaced
In order for the one million refugees and internally displaced Liberians
to return home, Human Rights Watch recommends that the Liberian government
actively extend political assurances of safety and provide material assistance.
The voluntary return of the refugees will be assisted by the Office of
the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). However, once they return,
they will require government assistance to rebuild their homes and community
institutions to become self-sufficient. While most will be able to return
home, some will face difficulties that the government must address. Some
returnees may find their homes occupied. In other cases, refugee from ethnic
or political groups previously targeted by Taylor's warring faction, may
fear persecution or be unwilling to return. The organized return of refugees
and the internally displaced should not be called for by the government
or UNHCR until the political situation stabilizes further and some basic
services are restored inside the country.
Although international assistance will be extended to refugees, there
is much less assistance available to those internally displaced. Thousands
of internally displaced are living in squalid conditions, particularly
in the greater Monrovia area. The Liberian government body tasked with
the responsibility of returning the refugee and internally displaced, the
Liberia Refugee, Repatriation and Resettlement Commission, remains under
funded and virtually non-functional. This body needs to be given the funding
and the authority to design programs that can return people to their homes.
2. Rebuilding State Institutions
Human Rights Watch calls on the government to streamline, screen and
reconstitute the Ministry of Justice, the courts, the police, the security
forces and the prison administration to guarantee greater accountability
and respect for human rights. The report calls on the government to resist
the pressure to reward former faction fighters responsible for gross violations
of human rights by giving them government jobs in the new army or police
force. In addition to hiring and training qualified personnel, the government
should create an independent oversight commission with the authority to
monitor and investigate abuses by police and security forces. In a commendable
move, the government recently created a Commission on Human Rights. This
welcome step must be followed by government support for the work of the
commission. The commission will require sufficient funding, authority,
and independence to investigate human rights complaints and to institute
legal proceedings on behalf of victims of abuse of state power.
3. Dealing with Past Abuses
Having emerged from a situation of brutal conflict where civilians were
overwhelmingly targeted by all factions, the government should take steps
to hold those responsible for committing gross violations of human rights
accountable for their crimes. The peace accords, that give immunity to
faction fighters for abuses in the course of military action should not
apply to atrocities against civilians. Where former combatants wantonly
committed abuses against civilians, they should be held accountable in
a court of law. Human Rights Watch calls on the government to create a
Truth Commission, to collect testimony and evidence about the wrongs committed
during the course of the war and publicly name those responsible for the
In dealing with past abuses, the government should pay special attention
to the effects of the widespread sexual violence committed against women
during the war, since the stigma attached to this crime and its under reported
nature, often result in the after effects being overlooked. Women also
continue to be subjected to discriminatory customary provisions which,
among other things, prevent them from inheriting property. With a larger
number of widows and female-headed households as a result of the war, Human
Rights Watch urges the legislature to repeal such discriminatory provisions.
The process of demobilizing former fighters remains incomplete. Although
some 21,315 of an estimated 33,000 have been disarmed, the chain of command
in many places remains intact, posing a threat of renewed mobilization
for political or criminal violence. Former fighters, particularly, child
soldiers, need to be returned to their home areas and to be given schooling
or vocational opportunities.
The Human Rights Watch report also calls on the international community
to sustain its attention to the rebuilding attention in Liberia, and to
make respect for human rights a condition of international aid and assistance.
The regional peacekeeping operation and the U.N. Military Observer mission
will depart shortly. Bilateral donors, the European Union, a small U.N.
peace-building unit and the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) will be playing
a key role in the country. It is incumbent on the U.N., as well as bilateral
donors and international nongovernmental groups, to ensure that human rights
issues are the cornerstone of their program assistance to Liberia.
Copies of this report are available from the Publications Department,
Human Rights Watch, 485 Fifth Ave. New York, NY 10017 for $10.50 (domestic
shipping) $15 (international shipping). Visa and MasterCard accepted.
The Africa division of Human Rights Watch was established in 1988 to
monitor and promote the observance of internationally recognized human
rights in sub-Saharan Africa. Peter Takirambudde is the executive director;
Janet Fleischman is the Washington director; Suliman Ali Baldo is the senior
researcher; Alex Vines is the research associate; Bronwen Manby and Binaifer
Nowrojee are counsels; Ariana Pearlroth and Juliet Wilson are associates;
Alison DesForges is a consultant; and Peter Bouckaert is the Orville Schell
Fellow. William Carmichael is the chair of the advisory committee.
This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa
Policy Information Center (APIC), the educational affiliate of the Washington
Office on Africa. APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate
in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa,
by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and
analysis usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.